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Prioritising employee mental health as we return to the workplace

opinions | 4 min read

As lockdown continues to ease, the dystopian atmosphere that defined the start of the pandemic has begun to shift.

With our social calendars starting to refill and many businesses setting their sights on the return to the workplace, it’s easy to feel like things will be ‘back to normal’ very soon.

In reality, the future of the workplace is going to be anything but the pre-COVID norm. A recent poll found that 2 in 5 employees are anxious over the prospect of returning to the workplace and 1 third stated that COVID-19 had caused them psychological stress, in some form.

Whether staff have been working from home, furloughed or fighting on the frontline, the pandemic has been a catalyst for conversations about mental health. However, it’s the ‘return to the workplace’ phase that will be the pivotal time for employers to move the dialogue into action, ensuring their workforces are supported throughout the uncertainty to come.

Communication is key

Many of your employees will be feeling high levels of anxiety and stress whilst trying to navigate all of the new unknowns. Some employees might be concerned about commuting on public transport, others about workplace social distancing procedures or returning to vulnerable family members at home.

Building a repertoire with employees that allows for open communication about how they are really doing mentally throughout this transition and sign-posting to support programmes will help employees to feel seen and valued.

Fostering a community of support during this time is crucial, which brings us to our next point.

Cultivate your culture

COVID-19 has created a unique opportunity for companies to reshape their culture. Building a culture that values and encourages talking about mental health will allow employees to feel they can safely communicate their concerns.

Now is the perfect opportunity to begin encouraging healthy work behaviours; even the simplest things like taking lunch breaks and finishing work on time can reduce anxiety, presenteeism and risk of burnout.

Prioritise introducing policies like, putting mental health on the agenda of every board or HR strategy meeting and publishing a mental health statement of intent.

These will encourage conversations about mental health to become embedded with senior management, filter down and foster a positive culture within the wider company.

Leverage technology

Supporting the mental health of employees in various locations, all with varying financial and emotional needs exacerbated by the pandemic may feel like an uphill battle, but it need not be.

Leveraging technology, such as personalised digital health solutions can enable HR leaders to take that all important case-by-case approach to employee wellbeing through this transitory phase.

Harnessing data, on the health and wellbeing of your workforce can help to build a picture of where additional interventions are needed.

Finally, prioritise your people

Anxiety over the pandemic is far from over and world crises can cause us all to feel extremely vulnerable. Making employees feel heard, valued and supported is crucial.

For those who are especially anxious, the IGLOO approach is a great resource for employees to get in the right frame of mind for returning to work.

Whilst COVID-19 caused radical uprooting of society, it has also been a catalyst for enormous positive change. Now is the time to revolutionise the employee experience and place people at the heart of your business.

If you need help supporting your employees on their return to the workplace, please reach out to us.

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